A referee must know where the puck is at all times. Therefore, whenever the referee loses sight of the puck, play is to be stopped and the face-off held at the point where the play was stopped, unless some other rule applies.

“But I Had An Open Net!”

How many times during a season does a referee hear this complaint? You wouldn’t want to know.

Inevitably, at some point during a game, and usually during a critical time when one of the teams is trying to tie or win the match, the puck is shot on net and it hits the goalie right in the chest.  The goalie makes it look like he has the puck in his chest pad and is acting as though he is waiting for the referee to blow the whistle to stop the play.  Just as the referee blows his whistle a player of the attacking team appears out of nowhere and shoots the puck into the net.  But because the referee blew his whistle a split second before the puck went into the net, the goal is not allowed.  The players start to argue that the puck was free and that it should be a goal.  Even though the referee may be thinking the same thing, he cannot allow the goal because the play was stopped upon the blowing his whistle.  The good referees will even admit to it being their fault, “My fault boys, I lost sight of the puck”, but there is not much that they can do about it after the fact.

In this example the puck trickled out of the goalie (who by the way also thought that he had the puck) and was lying on the ice just on the other side of the goalie where the referee was unable to see the puck still free for the players to play it.  As the rule clearly states, the referee is to stop the play as soon as he loses sight of the puck.  So when the referee thinks that the goalie has the puck covered and the referee is unable to see the puck anymore, he will blow the whistle.

The reason for the Referee not being able to see the puck is fairly simple. He is not the only person on the ice and he cannot see through players like Superman.  The referee’s view of the puck gets obstructed throughout the game as soon as one player skates between the referee and the puck.  Also, the referee is positioned on the sides of the ice close to the boards.  This positioning allows him to keep most of the players on the ice in his view at all times but it does not allow the referee to have a good view of the puck at all times, especially when the puck is on the other side of players. 

Referees are told to ‘Get to the Net’ whenever the play is around the net.  This means that the referee is to get as close to the net as possible while still keeping his own safety in mind.  The referee does not want to get so close that he becomes part of the play or gets hit by an errant stick or puck, but he  must try to get himself in a position so that he can see the puck and most of the players at all times.  For the most part a referee will have no trouble doing this, but it is very difficult as the referee usually has to go through a couple of players in order to get close enough to the net to see the puck at all times.


The referee’s eyes cannot be exclusively on the puck throughout the game. If this were the case, players would be taking cheap shots behind the play and trying to sneak a shot in at another player when the referee wasn’t looking. It is only natural that the referee may blow the play dead if he can no longer see the puck, or if he thinks that the goalie has frozen or covered the puck.

Referees are not only looking at the puck all game, their eyes are surveying the players at all times and their head is constantly on a swivel trying to catch players committing penalty infractions.  Even from the stands the parents or fans cannot see the puck at all times based on their line of sight, so it is not fair to think that referees can see the puck at all times either.


The only way to fix this is to have one referee skate with the play on one side of the ice, and then have another referee on the other side of the ice do the same thing.  The side of the ice that the puck is on would be that referee’s responsibility to blow the whistle.  In essence it would be a modified Two-referee system.  But as with the Two-Referee system currently employed in the NHL, it is hard for the players to get a feel for what the referee is going to call because no two referees are the same.  Also, the Minor Hockey level would not be able to financially support a Two-Referee system without raising registration fees for the players.  Parents would not be too impressed if this was to occur.